Friday, June 27, 2014

World Cup - US vs Germany

I believe
I believe that
I believe that we
I believe that we will win
I believe that we will win
I believe that we will win
I believe that we will win

Oh crap.

I believe that we can tie
I believe that we can tie
I believe that we can tie

Oh crap.

Portugal don't let Ghana win
Ghana keep Portugal in check
Portugal don't let Ghana win
Ghana keep Portugal in check.

That's how my emotions went during the game.  How about yours?

When you're playing one of the favorites to win the Cup and coming out of the "group of death," sometimes it's okay to back your way into continuing your trek towards the Cup.  A 1-0 loss to Germany is not the worst thing in the world, especially on a day's less rest, on a very soggy and wet field.  Thankfully, Portugal helped the US out by beating Ghana.  I thought it was interesting to hear that every team that played in Manaus, which is where the US played Portugal, lost their next game.  Unfortunately, the US continued that trend.

For all the talk of a gentlemen's agreement between Klinsmann (a former Germany player and coach) and the current Germany coach, this game had none of that.  The game had some chippy moments and it was obvious the way that both teams played that a tie was not a goal for either team.  Even in the last two minutes of the game, the fight was still there for both teams.  Lahm for Germany ran back 60 yards to block Bedoya's attempt on goal and seconds after that the US managed another header attempt by Dempsey.  That's what you want to see in the World Cup.  Play the games like you want to beat the world and see who comes out on top.

I saw two different sites awarding the Man of the Match.  One went to Jermaine Jones, while the other gave it to Beckerman.  Until he proves it otherwise, my Man of the Match for all three group games has been Tim Howard.  He's been a beast in the goal and if not for his play, the US would not be in this position.  In this game, Howard had 8 saves.  Even the goal that went in, Howard made the right play immediately before it, he just got unlucky that his clearance went directly to Muller who fired a perfect shot through traffic into the side netting.  But if you watch that play again, Howard did the right thing by punching the shot away from goal because if he had tried to catch a very wet ball and missed, there was an unmarked Germany player right there next to him ready and able to put the ball in himself.  Sometimes that's the way it goes.  Punch the ball away from the immediate threat and it lands perfectly in position for somebody else to score anyway.  But Howard's play has been spectacular during all three games.

Survive and advance.  That's the phrase used in the NCAA tournament and that's what the US did today to make it into the Round of 16.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

World Cup - US vs Portugal

I'm writing this after the US have already played Germany, but an illness kept me from coherently doing much of anything, but especially not writing on this blog.

Let me know if you've heard this before on this blog.  The team gave up an early goal, fought hard to get back to even, and then gave up a late goal to lose/tie.  That storyline sounds like nearly everything I have written for the Indy Eleven during the NASL spring season.  Unfortunately, it's also what could be written for the USMNT and their game against Portugal.  What I wrote about the 93rd minute loss of the Indy Eleven to the San Antonio Scorpions was "heartbreak."  This felt more like a punch to the gut.  In fact, I can't recall having ever done it before, but when Ronaldo's cross found Varela's head and then the back of the net, it also found me laying on my stomach on the floor of my living room.  I can't imagine what went through the player's meads and hearts at the time.

Never has a tie felt more like a loss.  Especially when the US had a goal like the one that Jermaine Jones plastered into the side netting curving between a defender and Dempsey.  Gorgeous.

The good news is that a win or a draw against Germany keeps the US moving into the Round of 16.  Even a loss is possible depending on the circumstances.  Those scenarios required somebody to create a spreadsheet, which I stole borrowed from the interwebs.

Win/draw and move on - that makes it easy.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

World Cup - US v Ghana

My reaction to the US vs Ghana game summarized by GIFs stolen borrowed from various Tumblr sites.
Absolutely brilliant individual effort.


Sydney Leroux says it best about how I felt through this entire game:

Landon Donovan has a sense of humor

I've always liked Landon Donovan. Glad he's taking his absence from the national team in stride and with humor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Columbus Crew - 2014 U.S. Open Cup

- Opponent: Columbus Crew
- Location: Akron, Ohio
- Attendance: 1,913
- Final Score: 2-1 (loss)
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Corrado, Norales, Okiomah, Estridge, Pineda, Ring, Moore, Smith, Ambersley, Mendes
- Substitutions: Mares (Okiomah), Spencer (Ambersley), Smart (Mendes)
- Goals: Smith (62')
- Bookings: Mendes (27'), Corrado (46'), Estridge (78'), Norales (95'), Moore (105')

Another mid-week game, though this one was several hours away, so my recap consists of watching the online feed. 
Video replay here.

The Indy Eleven have made a habit of falling behind teams this season and their Open Cup match against the Columbus Crew was no different.  A 4th minute corner kick and header and the Indy Eleven found themselves in their familiar, but undesirable, position of having to play from behind.  A position that is difficult enough against fellow NASL teams, but is magnified against a MLS team like the Crew.  Luckily, and I've been saying this since the beginning of the season, the Indy Eleven have talent and as much fight as any team I've ever watched.  This team does not give up, no matter the score.  They were further helped out when a red card was issued to the Crew's Adam Bedell for a challenge against Estridge.

Which leads me to the second theme of the game, which is missed opportunities.  Bedell was sent off in the 32rd minute, which meant that the Eleven had 58 minutes of regulation of a man advantage to pull even and go ahead.  Yet, they only managed to get one goal despite the advantage.  While I can't find the stat to confirm it, my feeling is that even though they were down a man, the Crew held the advantage in possession.  Then there was the second red card shown to a Columbus Crew player in the 110th minute, giving the Eleven a two-man advantage for the last ten minutes of the match.  And yet it was an Energizer bunny type run from Ethan Finlay that gave the Crew a back breaking penalty kick in the 114th minute and a one goal lead once again. 

It's those kinds of moments that have continually hurt the Eleven this season.  An early goal to fall behind and then a penalty kick as time is winding down are the things that need to be fixed.  Maybe the break will be that opportunity for the team to work on fixing some of the mental lapses and solidify their communication.  As you may have noticed from the starting lineup, the Eleven started a new player in Victor Pineda, who comes to the Eleven on loan from the Chicago Fire less than a week ago.  Much in the same way that Blake Smith started playing in games immediately after joining the team on loan from the Montreal Impact, Coach Sommer is getting these guys into games nearly as soon as they arrive.  This speaks to their ability, but I have to wonder if the continued jostling of the lineup is helpful.

Team captain and iron man (by my account the only man to have played in every single minute of every game) Kristian Nicht played a great game and I have to wonder when Don Smart gets rewarded for his effort and gets to start a few games in a row.  That guy has brought immediate energy and offense in every single game as witnessed by his assist to Blake's goal in the 62nd minute.

This recap may sound like I'm down on this team, and while I don't like watching them continually lose, I'm really not down on them.  There is talent, there is effort, and time will help with their familiarity with each other to hopefully limit some of their errors.  The wins will come and a hard fought overtime battle against a MLS level team might just be the spark that, while difficult right now, will get this team to win some games this fall NASL season in a month.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Silverbacks - 01.09

- Opponent: Atlanta Silverbacks
- Location: Atlanta, Georgia
- Attendance: 5,000
- Final Score: 3-3
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Frias, Smart, Hyland, Okiomah, Ring, Corrado, Moore, Smith, Ambersley, Mendes
- Substitutions: Spencer (Smart), Estridge (Hyland), Kleberson (Moore)
- Goals: Ambersley (13', 58'), Kleberson (88')
- Bookings: Smith (45'), Estridge (62'), Okiomah (65' - RED)

Again, my recap is based entirely on the @IndyElevenLive twitter feed since I haven't registered for the NASL Live package.  Yet, even through tweets, this seemed like it might have been a physical, grind-it-out affair.  All told there were six YELLOW yards + one RED card + 4 PENALTY KICKS.

Let me reiterate that.  There were six goals scored in this game and FOUR OF THEM were from the PK spot.  I don't know that I've ever seen a game with that many penalty kicks.

I suppose that could mean that it was poor officiating, but not a single card was given until the 45th minute and two were given in the last 2 minutes.  That sounds like two teams that scored three goals in a three minute span between minutes 12 and 15 and then realized they were in for a fight and took the fight literally. 

I don't know what to make of this game since it means they ended the spring season absolutely winless.  0-5-4 is not a good record.  It's hard to put a good spin on it.  They continued their trend of giving up goals and having to fight from behind.  They continued their trend of being the only team in the league to score a goal in every game, but also giving up a goal in every game.  I've watched the games, you can't pin the lack of a clean sheet on Nicht.  Nothing against Nicht, but his defense put him in some situations that Tim Howard couldn't have stopped.

In this game, they let the Silverbacks score in the 12th minute (by PK), proceeded to get one back almost immediately in the 13th minute, and then gave one right back in the 15th.  A third goal from the Silverbacks followed in the 45th minute (by PK), giving them a 3-1 lead going into halftime.  The "never give up, never surrender" Eleven managed to pull within one with an Ambersley PK in the 58th minute, only to see the ref issue a red card to Okiomah in the 65th minute.  It's like this team doesn't know how to work unless they have all odds stacked against them.  Being down a goal wasn't enough, they needed to be down a goal AND be down a man.  The fact that they managed a third goal (by PK) near the end of the game while playing short handed seems amazing to me.  All that without one of their regular starters in Norales who couldn't play because of his accumulation of yellow cards. 

I've heard Coach Sommer state that with a young team like this, with some guys who are just learning to be professional, they have to learn that every lapse in your play can hurt you.  That it only takes one mistake to be down a goal.  Nine games completed, five losses, four ties, and zero wins, I hope they are figuring it out by now.  I suppose, though, that realizing that the mistake can hurt you and preventing the mistake are two different things.

Whether they come back as a more successful team after the World Cup break remains to be seen, but my support hasn't wavered yet.  In fact, the more I deal with the team, the more impressed I am with it.  Thanks @PeterWilt1 and @MollyK10 for helping me complete my collection of the spring season game posters (yes, I'm aware that nobody besides my family/friends are reading this blog, but I can thank them anyway).

Game next week vs the Columbus Crew as part of the US Open Cup, taking place in Akron so at least it isn't a true home game for the Crew.  Maybe they can get some momentum going with a win there.

UPDATE: Congratulations to Mike Ambersley for making NASL's Team of the Week!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Indy Eleven vs Dayton Dutch Lions - 2014 U.S. Open Cup

- Opponent: Dayton Dutch Lions
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 9,181
- Final Score: 5-2 (win)
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Norales, Smart, Hyland, Okiomah, Mares, Corrado, Moore, Smith, Ambersley, Spencer
- Substitutions: Omosegbon (Norales), Ramirez (Ambersley), Mendes (Spencer)
- Goals: Smith (26', 30', 88'), Ambersley (43'), Mares (46')
- Bookings: Corrado (19'), Hyland (66'), Moore (82')

As a result of this being a mid-week game, I was unable to attend.  While I was able to catch part of it online thanks to it being U.S. Soccer's Match of the Round, my brother Kevin agreed to provide the first-hand impressions since he was in the stadium.  So please enjoy our first guest post on this site.
Video replay here.

OFFENSIVE FIREPOWER. That’s the theme of the game for the Indy XI. This game was part of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, a midweek game outside of the NASL regular season schedule. Matching up against a lesser opponent in the Dayton Dutch Lions, the Indy XI put on an offensive exhibition, including an incredible hat trick from forward Blake Smith. The Dutch Lions play in the USL Pro Division, which is a league below the NASL. The difference in talent level was evident from the start as the XI dominated throughout the first half. The Indy offense was in control for nearly the entire first half, with goals being scored at the 26th, 30th, and 43rd minute. Mike Ambersley was the other goal scorer in the first half. Taking a 3-0 lead into halftime, the XI clearly controlled the time of possession and exerted their will over the seemingly inferior competitor.

The XI came out of the locker room with the same intensity as the first half and scored in the very first minute of the 2nd half. Dylan Mares was responsible for this first goal, keeping the momentum in the XI’s favor. This was setting up to be a blowout by the home team. The Brickyard Battalion and the fans were thoroughly enjoying this slaughter of the Lions.

But the Dutch Lions found their own offensive stride, scoring in the 66th minute on a questionable penalty kick when defender Kyle Hyland and goalkeeper Kristian Knicht teamed up to take down Dutch Lions player, Aaron Shoenfeld. The penalty kick was nearly stopped but the Lions scored to make the game 4-1. In the second half, the Lions were definitely more offensively focused and put the XI on their defensive heels with strong strikes inside Indy’s defensive third. It looked like this might turn into a competitive game after all. The Dutch Lions scored once again in the 76th minute to make the score 4-2. Fans were quietly murmuring that the XI were going to let their first win slip away. But Blake Smith put an end to those discussions when he scored his third goal at the 88th minute, making the final score 5-2 (Editors note: Of the Indy Eleven goals, Blake Smith was involved in all five; 3 goals, 2 assists).

To see a hat trick is a rare occurrence in soccer. It takes a special blend of luck, skill and timing to achieve this feat. As a spectator you root so hard when that player gets his second goal, hoping to see something so unique in sports. Seeing Blake Smith get his third goal and the XI get their first win was a special night indeed. Witnessing the XI’s first win was just as enjoyable and fans can rest assured that this team will win more games, in this season and into the future.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

USMNT vs Turkey - Fabian Johnson goal

I haven't watched the game yet, but I could watch this highlight all day.

I don't know if you can have better one-two play than what is displayed here between Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson.  Bradley's entry pass is amazing and Johnson's first-touch shot on goal is as impressive as you will ever see.

In the video, Taylor Twellman says "I could watch that 1,000 times." At this point, I'm probably closing in on a couple dozen times and I've decided that this is what makes it so special for me:

- Johnson kicks it off the short hop, a finish that was world class for any striker. Yet, Johnson is the right back. He's a defender. His main job is not to score goals, but to prevent them, but you would never know it from the way he one-times that shot into the side netting.
- Johnson did not hesitate on his run forward toward the goal once he passed the ball to Bradley. As soon as he passed the ball to Bradley, he was looking to attack from his defender position.

- Johnson is right footed. That strike is perfect with his left. Amazing placement with his "weak" foot.
- I love that Bradley has the soccer IQ to either expect Johnson to make that run or the ability to react fast enough to chip a ball over the defense once he saw Johnson making that run.

- Bradley's placement of the ball was impeccable. Over a defender, who you can see in the replays was expecting the ball to go by him on his left and not over him, but not so far that the keeper had any play on it. Taylor Twellman seemed more impressed with the finish, but as a midfielder at heart, I think the 20-yard chip shot service from Bradley is what created that goal.

- Now that you know what you are watching, don't watch the ball. As soon as the video starts, find Bradley and watch what he does. As he drifts into position to get the ball from Johnson, his head is on a swivel. Bradley's head turns three or four times looking for who is around him and by the time the ball gets to him, he knows where everybody is located around him. He's already figuring out options on where to go with the ball five seconds before the ball ever found his feet. That, to me, is what makes him one of the most important pieces of the USMNT.

Indy Eleven vs Scorpions - 01.08

- Opponent: San Antonio Scorpions
- Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
- Attendance: 10,285
- Final Score: 2-1 (loss)
- Starting XI: Nicht (Captain), Norales, Estridge, Hyland, Okiomah, Ring, Corrado, Moore, Smith, Ambersley, Spencer
- Substitutions: Smart (Estridge), Mendes (Spencer), Mares (Moore)
- Goals: Smith (74')
- Bookings: Corrado (7'), Ring (43'), Norales (80')


That's the first word that comes to mind about this game.  Everything I needed to know about this game was displayed by Ambersley laying on his back near the center circle before the final whistle was blown, but after the game was unofficially over once the Scorpions scored a 93-minute goal to escape #TheMike with a win.  Dejected with the result knowing he had been given it everything he could to get the win and once again watching the ball finds its way into the net behind his own keeper.  Once again, effort was not the issue with this team.

The official stats show that possession was 50/50, but from my seat in the stands, that seems incorrect.  The Indy Eleven seemed to have the better part of the possession, especially in the waning minutes of the game.  The chant at the end of "I believe that we win will" seemed less like a belief and more like a certainty.  Watching the ball go in behind Nicht with only a handful of seconds left in the game was disheartening, especially after I saw Ambersley laying there in complete dejection. 

I have to maintain hope though.  I really think they outplayed one of the leading teams in the league. 

As we exited the stadium, Peter Wilt was there thanking people for coming.  As he shook my hand, I said, "we'll get 'em next time" and he responded, "you think so?"  I do.  There is talent on this team and they have played well this entire spring season.  They just seem to keep having some defensive lapses that doom them to ties and losses.  I have faith they will get those defensive issues resolved, though I'm as uncertain about which group of guys gets it done as apparently Coach Sommer is at the moment, because he had yet another different starting lineup this week.  Maybe the World Cup break will help solidify some of those positions.

Three more yellow cards this week and if I'm keeping track correctly, one of those cards was Erick Norales' fifth.  Remember, the NASL rules state that, "A player will be suspended for one game upon receiving his fifth yellow card – regardless of the nature of the infraction which resulted in his being awarded the yellow card." So I think Norales will be unavailable for the game next week against Atlanta.  Yes, the Norales who is one of only four players on the Indy Eleven roster that has started all nine games this season and started the season with a three-peat on the league's Team of the Week.  For a defense that continues to give up plays, the loss of one of the bright spots doesn't bode well.Oh, and Brad Ring picked up his fourth, so he's close to spending a game on the bench too.